Why healing isn't linear: my breakup recovery rollercoaster

It’s been three months since my breakup. That’s twelve weeks, 90 days, and 2,190 hours of heartache and healing. 

To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse inside my post-breakup brain. If you, like me, are prone to should-ing all over yourself - that is to say, you think you should be happier/less snotty/over it by now - then I hope this insight into my own experience goes some way towards solidifying the sentiment you’re probably tired of hearing by now. Healing isn’t linear.

Flip-flopping from misery to gratitude, despair to hope, loneliness to joy all in the space of a single day was and still is par for the course. My breakup has felt about as unruly and unpredictable as a rollercoaster ride though with fewer thrills, lots less fun, and no operator to throw on the brakes when I've had enough. Multiple and conflicting forces coexist and, even when it feels like my body can’t possibly withstand any more Gs, there comes another loop-the-loop. It’s exhausting, to tell you the truth.

But then something funny starts to happen. You realise it’s been a whole hour since you thought of them. Perhaps you let out a laugh or found yourself grinning at a TikTok of a dog wearing a hat. Maybe you even made it through a whole conversation without getting distracted (was that person over there wearing the same brand of aftershave as my ex and ohmygod I miss him so much and maybe I should call him and wait, what was my friend saying? Crap, I better just smile and nod.)

Slowly, you start showing up in your life as a leading character rather than just watching from the wings. Things that have felt elusive and reserved for the happy-of-heart, like joy and sleep and fun and connection, begin to make their reappearance in your day-to-day. Chores stop feeling like insurmountable tasks, weekends stop feeling like endless expanses of hours to fill, work stops feeling like an inconvenience that eats into your wallowing time, and food stops feeling like gravel in your throat. Your gears are no longer stuck solely in survival mode.

You begin to flesh out your newly slimmed-down existence and plug the holes left by your ex with things that bring you peace and comfort. Sometimes this looks like binging a whole season of Indian Matchmaking whilst in the bath, others like a yoga class followed by a hike. You start to navigate your life according to your internal compass, to steer yourself in the direction of your needs at any given moment. You know when it’s time to hole up to let the tears come and equally when to nudge yourself back into the world, gently and with care.

The self-awareness and wisdom that grows from the dark and uncharted corners of your internal landscape is a gift, one you’ll soon come to nurture and appreciate. Somewhere from deep within the tangled chaos of your heart, shoots of meaning reveal themselves, and suddenly not everything feels so pointless. You might even find yourself humbled and changed by the lessons you’re forced to learn and re-learn, and by the mistakes you’re forced to acknowledge and forgive.

Then it arrives, barrelling full-throttle like a freight train into the side of your head, a realisation: they are never coming back. You’re left staggering and reeling, and with your nerve-endings shredded you can’t help but feel as if you’re back to square one, as if recovery is nothing but a cruel myth and you’re destined to be broken and in agony forever. This, I promise you, is not true. 

I still cry often. I still pick up my phone equal parts frightened and hopeful that my ex has tried to call. I still see his face in my dreams. I still feel that prickle behind my eyes when I pass a place we made memories together.

The difference three months on isn’t that the pain has gone. It's only that I’m getting better at holding space for it to be there, and less likely to push it aggressively away or cling desperately to its meaning. I’ve stopped trying to force it out altogether and started trying to live alongside it, to integrate the loss and the lessons. I know it's going to hurt for a while; I also know it’s supposed to.

Over time, grief has come to feel less like an unwanted guest and more like an old friend whose unannounced visits are unsettling yet transient. And the more I invite her in for tea, the longer I sit down across from her, the closer I listen to what she has to say, the sooner she leaves me in peace. 

I might even be grateful for her drop-ins for the way they soften my hard places and crack them open, leaving me each time that little bit fuller and more receptive to life.

You can probably all relate to that feeling after a breakup, the one where it seems as if someone has snuck into your kitchen whilst you were sleeping and moved the toaster into the cupboard and the glasses into the drawers and the forks into the fridge. Everything is out of place. Nothing is as it should be. It’s all just wrong.

That feeling is enough to drive anyone towards fantasies of leaping back into the arms of their ex. No matter how dysfunctional or painful the relationship, at least it was familiar. At least when you reached for a glass you found what you were looking for. No one wants to drink their juice out of a toaster, do they?

What I’m really trying to say with all these utensil analogies is this: missing my ex is not a good enough reason to want him back. We spend X amount of weeks, months, or years investing in another person and fusing our lives with theirs and - poof - they’re gone. To think we get to walk away without any ounce of hurt or longing would be absurd.

I didn’t put my delicate heart in the hands of another only to take it back unscathed, in full working order, in shiny display-model condition. No, I knew it would get dented and chipped and downright pounded to a pulp along the way. That’s the risk I took when I rented it out.

And looking to my ex to repair the damage would be like expecting a driver to fix their own wreckage. He’s not a heart mechanic. He doesn’t have the tools or the knowledge to spend days under my beat-up hood, welding and wiring and - okay, this is getting too technical for me now but hopefully, you get my point.

Like so many of us, I believed the relationship was a container in which my ex could grow, expanding to fill the space I made for him and showing up as the fully-fledged person who could satisfy my emotional needs. But in waiting for my needs to get met, I was sending a message to him, myself, and the Universe that my needs weren’t a priority.

Now the claws of attachment have retracted to release me from their grip of delusion and rose-tinted realities, I’m beginning to see things for how they were rather than how I wanted them to be. No matter how much potential I saw in him or how many positives there were between us, the truth is my ex couldn’t be the person I needed him to be, nor could we heal in the ways I wanted us to.

If I didn’t miss my ex or fantasise about him coming back at times, I wouldn’t be human. I wouldn’t have loved. And the screwiness of my life and my feelings since the breakup sure as hell aren’t mystical signs that our love was meant to be or that we should try again.

In moments of groundlessness, it helps to remind myself that this topsy-turvy, out-of-sorts, life-turned-upside-down feeling is only fleeting. My therapist described it perfectly: it’s a snapshot of time between undressing and putting on new clothes. I might be naked right now but I wasn’t before, nor will I always be. 

I’ll be dressed again before I know it. So will you.

Peace and love x 

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